Tips & Advice: CVs, Cover Letters and Application Forms

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If you're seriously committed to working in international development you need to be one step ahead of your competition. Our advisers are able to give you guidance and a strategy to help you in your career. We can help you with your CV, cover letters and application forms through a One to One consultation, CVCheck or coaching.

Here are some tips and advice on CVs, cover letters and application forms 

Preparing your CV

What should be included in a CV?

CV tips

CV samples

Tips for electronically scanned CVs

Preparing a cover letter
What should be included in a cover letter?

Cover letter tips

Cover letter samples

Tips for application forms

Preparing your CV

A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is a document outlining your career to date. The purpose of a CV is to get you an interview so you should treat it as a sales tool. It's not your life story and you must be selective in the information you include.

The overall design of your CV should be simple, clear and short.

Your CV should be no longer than two pages. Rarely should it exceed this length, the only exception being an academic CV.

If you have limited experience then one page is perfect. Don’t waffle, and never lie.


What should be included in a CV?

  • Personal Details: Your name, as you are known. A CV is not a legal document and therefore doesn’t require middle names.

  • Address: It is helpful to the employer as in today’s electronic world it grounds you. Students need to give the address where they can be contacted - and not home and term details.

  • Include telephone numbers and make sure your mobile answer phone message sounds professional.

  • Your email address: again this should be sensible and professional and not sexysue@... robthegreat@... or similar! 

  • Skills, Achievements, Personal Interests: Skills may include: languages, IT, driving, etc. as well as transferable ones such as communication and teamwork. You must give evidence of these. Achievements may include the attainment of personal goals, awards, certificates, medals, etc. Don't overload your CV with interests; otherwise, you may appear too interested in your out of work activities.

  • Work Experience: This should also be listed in reverse chronological order. Use active rather than passive verbs to describe your experience e.g. ‘I managed’ rather than ‘the management of’. Also you must link your skills and experience to the requirements of the position.

  • Education: This should be listed in reverse chronological order. It is not necessary to list all your subjects completed. Never write about your dissertation; the qualification, result and subject are the important data.

  • Referees: Often are not required at this stage of the recruitment process. If the company wants them they will ask.

  • Ask the permission of your referees before you give their details. Include their phone number and email so they can be easily contacted.


CV tips

  • There is no such thing as a generic CV, fitting all opportunities.

  • Your CV is the first impression an employer gets of you; so make it a good one!

  • CVs should be typed and no longer than 2 sides of A4 (not double-sided).

  • A photograph is not required.

  • CVs should always be accompanied by a cover letter.

  • Adapt your CV for each job you apply for.

  • Use positive, businesslike language and concise phrases.

  • Use action verbs (e.g. managed, organised, developed) to quantify your experience.

  • Put yourself in the employers' shoes: what are they looking for? Have you researched the company and read the job specification and person specification to check skills required?

  • Emphasise the skills you have developed – through part-time jobs, voluntary work, community work, hobbies, clubs, sports, and courses.

  • Make sure you give concrete evidence to back up the skills you say you have.

  • Ask someone to read your CV before you send it. Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

  • Always retain a master copy of your CV. This makes it easier to update it when information changes.

  • Laser print your CV on heavyweight paper - a poorly presented CV does not create a good first impression.

CV samples

Link coming soon, please check back.


Tips for electronically scanned CVs

  • ESCV's refer to the increased use by companies of high-speed scanners for short-listing candidates.

  • Normally, a company will warn you in advance if they are using this system.

  • The system reads the text and extracts key data such as skills, qualifications, previous employers and positions. These key data are matched against the requirements of the job.

  • Use a normal typeface like Ariel or Courier.

  • Do not underline or use italics.

  • Pages should not be stapled.

  • Text should only be on one side of the page.

  • Use plain, white A4 paper.

  • The applicant's name should be the first text on the CV. Addresses and telephone numbers should not be on the same line as the name.


Preparing a cover letter or email

A cover letter should accompany any CV you send when you are applying for a position in an organisation. It is particularly important to send if your CV is unsolicited and speculative.

What should be included in a cover letter?

  • A cover letter /email should state the reason that you are writing to the prospective employer whether it is a speculative letter or in response to an advertisement. It should be no longer than one page in length. Keep it simple and to the point. It is preferable to print cover letters onto best quality heavyweight paper.

  • Do not write ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ letters. Always address your letter to the relevant person in the company; get a name. Call the organisation to establish who is in charge of recruitment.

  • Make sure you get names, addresses and titles exactly right. Sloppy addressing can turn an employer off you at first glance!

  • Tailor your letter to suit the company and the job for which you are applying. Use it to highlight relevant parts of your CV or how you meet the skills criteria.

  • Be positive in your letter. The cover letter/email creates a first impression and sets the tone of the application.

  • Always check spelling and grammar.

  • Keep copies of all letters you send out. It may be some time before the company replies, by which time you will have forgotten what you wrote in your letter.


Cover letter tips

  • Be consistent; use the same paper, font and layout as your CV. This is your brand.

  • A cover letter need only be 1 A4 side, and it should not simply repeat what is said in your CV.

  • The cover letter should explain why you are writing (e.g. in response to an advert, on a speculative basis) why you want to work for the company, why you want the job and why you would be great for the job.

  • Always end cover letters on a positive note, such as; 'I look forward to hearing from you'.


Cover letter samples

For good examples of cover letters click on the link below.


Tips for application forms

  • Make a copy of the form.

  • Pay particular attention to instructions regarding the colour of ink, use of capitals, and attachments.

  • Have all your information about the company and yourself at hand.

  • Read the employers literature, such as the annual report or promotional material. Familiarise yourself fully with the company website.

  • Make sure you are aware of any topical issues facing the company or their products/services.

  • Find out as much as you can about the job function; within the company and across the industry.

  • Draft your answers to ensure they fit the space provided. Give evidence of examples taken from work, voluntary experience and social activities.

  • Make sure your form is clean and legible.

  • Be careful about spelling and punctuation. Word-process your application first and use a spell checker, and be aware of American spellings e.g. Adviser vs. Advisor, organisation vs. organization, etc.

  • Never leave a section blank unless it is clearly inappropriate for you.

  • Remember to sign and date your final form.

  • Keep a copy, as it may be used as a basis for discussion/interview, and copies will be useful for future forms.


We can help you with your CV, cover letter and applications thorough a One to One consultation or CVCheck

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